Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.06.24

K.G. Kachler, S. Aebi, R. Brunner, Antike Theater und Masken: Eine Reise rund um das Mittelmeer. 1400 Bilder auf DVD. Materialien des Instituts für Theaterwissenschaften Bern, 7.   Zürich:  Chronos, 2003.  Pp. 131; DVD.  ISBN 3-0340-0565-2.  CHF 48.00/€32.00.  

Reviewed by William Slater, McMaster University
Word count: 984 words

H.G. Kachler taught theater history in Basel and served as president of the Swiss Theater History Society as well as running the Augst theatre festival. He died in 2000 leaving behind a collection of 5000 photographs of items connected with the ancient theatre, which he had made during many visits to the Mediterranean from the 60s to the 80s. On his death these passed to the Theatre Society, which he had himself supported and where the collection is still housed at the University of Bern. From this total the DVD contains 1400 photos chosen on the basis of quality. The picture book contains about 100 pictures of masks and theatres with brief explanatory text. There is an introduction and a bibliography of works to which reference is made.

The book itself makes it clear that this is not designed as research material but as an introduction, and indeed its value lies in making readily available pictures not immediately accessible to the teacher of ancient theater. There is extensive coverage of ancient sites, and most of the known theatres find a place. It is a pity only to have two illustrations of the best preserved (Bostra), and even more regrettable not to have regular indications of scale, for the most stunning aspect of an ancient theatre is often its sheer size. Still even the experienced traveller will find here some example not easily recognized, perhaps because of the unusual angle. However, one will also recognize some new "restorations", and worse some very elaborate reconstructions from earlier times, now blending in deceptively with older stones. A theatre like Vaison is almost all restoration, and the unwary will be alarmed to see what actually was preserved from antiquity. The same is true for many of the French theatres. As a result, the laconic "restauriert" is not sufficiently informative even for the student. The zeal of tourist authorities to restore especially the proskenion -- even in one recently observed instance with pillars from a distant temple -- is unstoppable. The book explains that much of their commentary comes from the useful but perhaps unreliable Teatri Greci e Romani (three volumes: Rome 1994), referred to mysteriously by the acronym "Seat". That book will provide the plans which are missing here. But of course more specialist books are now available, e.g. the rather overwhelming 1,434 pages of G. Tosi, Gli Edifici per Spettacoli nell'Italia Romana (Rome 2003).

Likewise some of the mask (and related) illustrations will not be too well known. For example, the Boeotian terracotta actor in the Louvre MNB 205, called there "acteur en papposilene", is well photographed outside its case, whereas it is not easily visible in the Louvre, even when indeed the room is open. (On my last two visits I was once ushered out because of a terrorist alarm, and the second time being again ushered out, I was finally able to determine that it was a strike by attendants.) The commentary here on p.15 says "Satyr in Frauenkostum" which is what Webster and others have said, partly out of desperation. But there are at least seven examples of this figure known to me, including several in Dresden, -- as my ex-student M. Garmaise discovered -- and it is more likely to be a specific Boeotian type of satyric actor than a transvestite papposilenos. This is more likely to provoke interest than the many colour pictures of Dionysiac scenes from Athenian vases, which may have nothing to do directly with theater.

The DVD is professionally constructed with its own search and viewing programme, so that one can discover illustrations by theme (e.g. Charonian steps) or by location ( e..g. Sabratha) or both at the same time, since one can navigate quickly by means of a bar at the bottom. Obviously one will not discover all examples of Charonian steps, but at least there will be examples, though these will not be the best (Argos) or taken from inside, or taken in such a way as to show where their exact course runs from and to, or even where there are two in the same orchestra. They are simply tourist photos made for an educated general public, of a (rather smelly) hole in the ground at Eretria, where some of the most interesting features were earlier removed during WWII. The DVD does enable one to search by century (but this is none too secure, being based on Teatri g. e R.) and the quality is sometimes none too high. It would not be ideal for using in projections.

On the whole therefore this is a useful (though expensive) way for interested undergraduates to get started researching for an essay on ancient theater, or for a harrassed teacher of same to find an illustration, which can be shown to a class from the CD. But such a student would have to be warned that the theatres have been and still are liable to modern and extremely dubious reconstructions, and even in antiquity represented work in progress. An unkind fate has decreed that the theatre we know best epigraphically is Delos whose miserable ruins have little appeal for the busy tourist. The academic can look forward to the detailed construction of its architectural history by J.C. Moretti, whose untiring labours on ancient theatre have sadly not gained him access to the bibliography. The two photos here on the CD show two neat lines of stones on the then newly reconstructed orchestra. They do not belong there, but might suggest to the unwary that an aulaeum existed, remarkably, several feet in front of the proskenion. There is on the other hand no sign of the Charonian steps that were discovered. Yet this is perhaps the most interesting of all theatres for theatre history or theatrical philology, even when so little remains. The tourist will not have time to appreciate that, and a book like this cannot really help him.

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